Looking at the Big Picture for SMB Sales and Marketing: revenue + associates

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group. Today I’m talking to Louis Gudema, president of revenue + associates, which helps companies generate more revenue through measureable sales and marketing improvements. So Louis, I’ve known you for a while and I’ve know that revenue + associates is a new company for you, what’s prompted you to start it? Louis-casual-200-pix-wide

Louis: I had a company before for a dozen years, a digital agency that I sold in 2009 that became one of the national leaders in our niche. Then I did business development for two other agencies for several years. What I saw was a need that wasn’t being addressed head on, which is corporate revenue generation. A lot of agencies and people splinter it and say we’re going to help you with your website, we’re going to help with search, or we’re going help with advertising or with sales training, or whatever it may be, social media, but they’re not looking at the whole picture. Those point solutions may not be what a company really needs, and there may be other places where the best revenue opportunities lie for them.

Laurie: Yes, I think that’s a problem all of us can relate to. We know there’s many solutions out there but we have to frame up the problem and make sure we’re getting the right solution in place for it. How do you go about solving for that because it’s pretty complex?

Louis: I look across what I call a sales and marketing audit. There’s currently over a thousand companies, for example, providing sales and marketing software and dozens of channels from things like social and search advertising to traditional things like print. So in a sales and marketing audit, I look across a company’s whole sales and marketing process, it’s a 100 plus point audit that looks at what technologies are they using, what is the strategy, internal operations, governance, budgets, how are they onboarding people and training people, do they have the staff, are there skills gaps? From that I identify the best short, mid, and long-term opportunities for the company and start working with them to drill down.

Laurie: Who are your services mainly designed for? Small, medium or larger companies, what’s the right size company for this approach?

Louis: It’s a company that really wants to grow revenue. I’ve seen surveys that three out of four small business owners don’t want to get any bigger. So I want to talk to the fourth one. I’m especially focused on mid-market companies with say 10 to 100 or 200 million in revenue. I’ve worked with companies like IBM and Philips Healthcare and Avid Technology and other very, very large companies and done millions of dollars of business with them but in terms of starting this new company and the particular approach, I’m especially focused on that mid-market.

Laurie: I know you recently published a report called Revenue Opportunities, what is that about and what did you find in there? revenue-opportunities-report-cover-190

Louis: What I did was I took a look at 196 mid-market companies in New England that were operating on a national level. Looking from the outside what could I see about how much they were adapting modern sales and marketing programs. This looks at things like did they have analytics on their website, were they doing search advertising, were they doing search engine optimization, did they have a mobile ready site? Nine different things that could be seen from the outside, and it wasn’t only because those nine things can be very valuable and generate a lot of revenue when used well.

I felt they were also an indicator of the maturity and depth of a company’s revenue generation program. What I found was that of these 200 companies that operate nationally, so they all should be really eager to do as much as they can to generate revenue because they’re in competitive national or global markets. In fact, the average among those companies was that they were using less than three of those nine important programs and the median was two. It was a very, very low adoption rate.

Laurie: Why do you think the adoption rate for these things that are so directly tied to revenue so low?

Louis: I think it’s a couple things. The real outlier at the top end were SaaS and venture-backed companies. These are new companies, they’re very data driven and they’re very comfortable with technology, and they’re part of a world, especially that venture-backed world that knows this whole modern and very effective way to really ramp up revenue quickly.

I also get into other industries, like manufacturing or medical devices or engineering or architecture. I looked across a lot of industries. Then adoption rates plummet a lot so I think you have a situation where a company that’s doing okay, and has traditional ways of generating business. They know how those work for them and there’s this massive number of new things flying at them and they don’t know what’s real, what’s not real, what’s important. They don’t know where to start. They may have even tried one or two things but sometimes if you dip your toe in the water you can’t learn to swim, sometimes you have to really go in and embrace something to get the results. For a number of reasons the adoption of these technologies has been very slow, nationally even, from studies I’ve seen.

Laurie: These results you’re getting from these companies that are all in New England, do you think they represent the larger mid-market in the U.S.?

Louis: Actually, if anything, New England may be a little ahead of the national average because half of New England market is Massachusetts and Boston is a big part of that. There’s a lot of newer SaaS and venture-backed companies in Boston and Massachusetts. SiriusDecisions did a report that came out the same week as my report. They only looked at one of the nine factors, which was marketing automation and said just 16% of B2B companies nationally are using it. In my sample it was 28%. So it’s really low.

It’s not that I’m saying that these nine programs are the end all be all. As I said I’m really taking them at kind of a litmus test or thermometer to see how deep, how well built out are the revenue generation programs. There’s lots of other things like events and email newsletters and predictive analytics and lots of other things that companies can be using traditional and digital that may be the most effective for them, but these are the ones I could see.

Laurie: In the report it discusses the upside for the companies who do get more sophisticated in terms of how they generate revenue and what programs they put into place. If you aren’t doing some of this stuff right now where should you go to get started?

Louis: Well, there are several things. First, you need to adopt the mindset and recognize that this is an important area for revenue growth and something you need to invest in. You need to adopt a data-driven mindset and realize that your gut may not always be right and sometimes the data will take you someplace new. You also need to be willing to experiment and even fail because these things will not work 100% of the time and they take implementation and analyzing and optimization to get it right.

You have to invest in people and make sure they have the skills and that you’re adopting the right tools and that you know how to use them, and you have to find someone who can probably guide you through it. That thousand plus programs, those are in dozens of categories. Some of those categories are important to some companies and not others.

Once you’ve adopted a commitment to it and to budgeting and training and so on and so forth you’re going to have to take some time to figure out what are the right things for you and how to get them to all work together. That’s where the big payoff is, it’s not adopting one or two programs, but if you adopt a marketing automation program integrate it with your CRM and integrate it with your email marketing and other things so that everything starts working together.

Laurie: Louis, where can they go to learn more about the services that revenue + associates provides? Louis: Our website is revenue + associates,. I also have a blog.

Laurie: Can they get a copy of the report there?

Louis: Yes, you can get a copy of the report there, you can download it there. There’s actually a blog post which is specifically about an SMB action plan, some of the things for a company that is new to these more modern programs, where are some of the places that you can start.  

Laurie: Sounds great. Thanks again, Louis, for your time today, for joining me on SMB Spotlight. This really looks like something a lot of SMBs will want to look into because I think even if you don’t want to grow your business in terms of people, most businesses want to become more profitable and I think that all comes into play as well. So thank you again.

Louis:Thanks, Laurie.

VerticalResponse: Taking the Guesswork Out of Email Marketing and Social Media for Small Businesses

vrlogo-gradient_1000pxLaurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group, and today I’m talking to Janine Popick, CEO at VerticalResponse. VerticalResponse helps small businesses grow with email and social marketing tools, and recently Vertical Response introduced a new version of their solution which is what I’m here to talk with Janine about today.

So Janine, before we get into what the new VerticalResponse solution is all about, can you just let us know a little background about the company and what you’ve been doing up until now.

Janine: Oh sure, and thanks for having me here, Laurie, this is great. I launched VerticalResponse back in 2001 really with the premise that there was a lot of email marketing solutions out there for big businesses but there’s not a lot of solutions for small businesses. We’re based in San Francisco, we’re still headquartered here today, but really those big companies have that expensive software to manage all of their marketing, especially their email marketing. It was the right time for us to launch a company and get those small businesses from sending email out of their Outlook to more professional looking emails and a more professional solution. Currently here we have about 105 current employees at VerticalResponse.

Laurie: Ok, and about how many customers do you have?

Janine: Well we have over a million businesses that have come to use us over the course of the last 13 years. We’ve got probably on any given month about 40 to 50,000 active customers that are in there using the system.

Laurie: Ok, thanks. That’s a great introduction too. So why are you introducing a new version of VerticalResponse now?

Janine: Well, over the course of years newer technology surfaces so that companies like VerticalResponse can build some really neat stuff for small businesses to use, easier to use technologies, and we really decided it’s time for us to do that. Our self-service platform really lets those small businesses connect with their customers using both email marketing and social media marketing.

Laurie: Right, I did get a look at it last time we spoke and it does look really easy to use, which is always a good thing for any of us.

Janine: Yeah, you know small businesses really want to get in there and get out and do what they do best which is running their business.

Laurie: Exactly. Who would benefit from this? Is it your existing customers, is it new customers? How will it help them?

Janine: Well definitely new customers and existing customers. It really solves lots of problems but two that come to mind are time and money. Right? So with VerticalResponse these customers can keep in touch with their customers through the email marketing and social media marketing without spending, like you said you thought, without spending a lot of time to learn a complicated technology. This new platform has lots of amazing features. We really focused on drag and drop designer and with that drag and drop come templates that are mobile friendly. We’re really over 50% of all consumers today are checking their email on their mobile phone or on their tablet, so we really put an emphasis on mobile friendly templates, but you can also post messages to Twitter and Facebook right from the same dashboard, so you don’t have to log in to all those different platforms to do your social media as well, it’s kind of like that nifty one-stop shop for email and social.

Screen_Shot_2014-04-08

Laurie: Right, and that’s very convenient. Also, if I remember correctly, once you create your email marketing campaign it will render across any of the mobile devices or somebody’s laptop or desktop without you having to do anything different to it. It’ll render correctly, right?

Janine: Absolutely. We really wanted to take all that guesswork out of it for our customers who are the small businesses.

Laurie: Yep, make it idiot-proof. How about for the customers using the original version that you have, are there any gotchas? Should they switch to the new version or is it something they need to kind of look at some trade-offs or what?

Janine: Well I think at the get-go they should look at the new version, especially if they have under a thousand contacts on their list, it’s free, the whole product is free. That’s one benefit for our current VerticalResponse customers. Over the course of the next two to three quarters, we’re going to be incorporating all of the features that most of the Vertical Response current customers are using into the new platform in an even better and easy-to-use way. As those features come available we’re going to be communicating to those customers that use and love those features that hey, they’re available in the new Vertical Response, come on over and start using them. So that’s pretty exciting for current VerticalResponse customers, I think.

Laurie: Yeah, definitely, so kind of get your feet wet now even if it’s not got every bell and whistle that you want, it will have it and you can learn it and be ready when it’s all available.

Janine: Exactly.

Laurie: So right now the new version is completely free or is it a freemium kind of model where there’s an up charge or how does that work?

Janine: Well it is a freemium model, it is completely free if you have a thousand or fewer customers. Once you go over the thousand contacts on your list it’s as little as nine bucks per month, depending on your list size that’s where it starts. It is completely free but as soon as you start growing and you might want some more bells and whistles, then we’ll ask you for a charge.

Laurie: Yes, sure, typical freemium model. What’s your URL, what’s the website address where they can learn more both about the new product and maybe the existing one too?

Janine: The website is www.verticalresponse.com, they can go, they can sign up right then and there and begin trying it out. It’s pretty easy, they get in there and just try it out and see if they like it.

Laurie: When did you put it up there for people to start trying?

Janine: On the 14th of March.

Laurie: Ok. Have you had a lot of hits or how’s it going with that?

Janine: We have actually. We have the most sign ups that we’ve had over the course of many years, which is just great to see. We think it’s catching on, we think people like it and it’s just going to keep growing, so we’re pretty excited about what we’re able to offer to our business customers.

Laurie: Ok, well that’s great, Janine. I really appreciate your time today and thank you for joining us to share the information and the news.

Janine: Thank you.

Discussing SMB Tech Trends: Part 2, Mobile Applications and Management

Recently, I was a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2014 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The second of a four-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars.”

free multiple mobile devicesKalynn:Welcome back to Act Local Marketing for Small Business, Laurie. The next trend I’d like to discuss is mobile and mobile management and mobile app usage in the SMB market.

Laurie:Well, what we’ve seen with mobile is really fascinating.  I’ve never seen adoption in a technology area occur at such a fast and furious pace. It’s been just unbelievable since the iPhone was launched.

The iPhone changed everything because it personalized the devices, and spawned this whole app ecosystem, and it just made these phones that we all now carry around become critical in our personal lives and in our businesses. 

As a matter of fact, 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as critical to their businesses. That’s kind of unbelievable considering just a few years ago you probably had a dumb phone and you might have relied on it but nothing like we rely on our phones now. 

Kalynn: So what kind of mobile apps are SMBs using?

Laurie: Basic collaboration appscalendars, emails, messaging and contactsare already mainstream. About 83% of SMBs use them. 

Slide1SMBs are also adopting mobile apps for very business-specific functions. So, for things like order entry or inventory lookup, or to log time and attendance or enter payroll. Mobile is becoming part and parcel of how we conduct business.

Almost half of SMBs also either have or are planning to build a mobile-friendly website to engage customers using mobile devices. Sometimes you don’t even have to build it. If you have a WordPress site it’s automatically mobile friendly. 

Kalynn: Right, many themes now are mobile-enabled, and adjust depending on the size of the screen. 

Laurie: If you’re not doing this, you need to. It’s so frustrating to go to a site and have to keep adjusting the screen to read the text because it’s not mobile-friendly.

Some SMBs are also starting to deploy specific mobile apps to engage with their customers and prospects for appointment scheduling and payments, and things like that.

Kalynn: Do they develop their own proprietary mobile apps?

Laurie:Not necessarily. For instance, restaurants may use something like OpenTable. My hair salon uses a mobile app that lets me book and confirm and all that kind of stuff on my mobile device.

Some SMBs are also developing their own mobile apps or paying third parties to develop tailored apps for them.  Most of the backend applications that SMBs use have mobile app extensions, which are often available on Apple and Android app stores. If the right mobile app is available and can snap into your existing app, that can do the trick.

Kalynn: There’s absolutely no need to do customized right off the bat because so many apps are already out there that you can be a part of.

Don’t forget that in terms of making sure you’re getting found online, because  I’m always thinking in terms of SEO or Search Engine Optimization, a lot of these review sites like Yelp have mobile apps. People will go on them to check reviews about your business, more often than not from a mobile device. I’m not sure I remember the exact statistic but it was something 68% of people have their mobile phone within arm’s reach at all times. 

Laurie:It may be even higher. Also I think we’ve already passed the point where more searches are done on a mobile device than on a laptop or traditional PC or MAC.

Slide1So this makes mobile management critical because it’s a given that our reliance and use of mobile apps will continue to rise. SMBs must keep pace with the mobile explosion. You need to be able to manage not only the mobile devices in your company but also internal applications that your employees are using. 

With any mobile applications, security, management and provisioning are very important. If you’re not yet doing anything, in this area, the time has certainly come.

Kalynn: Right, you have to because employees are using so many devices and apps. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)  means that companies are less apt to supply people with devices. Everyone has a favorite and they have to all work together.  You really have to think about mobile policies and procedures  for mobile devices and various apps.

Laurie:Yes, fortunately there are a lot of vendors that have mobile management solutions now geared towards SMBs from vendors like AirWatch or MobileIron. And from vendors that you might already be doing business with like Dell or HP or IBM. A lot of them are cloud-based, so that makes them easier to deploy and use.  

Kalynn: Right, and I’m sure there are tons of consultants that work with these solutions and can help you figure it out too.

In the third of this four-part series, I’ll recap Kalynn’s and my conversation about “SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light.” You can listen to the complete podcast here.

 

 

                       

Social Media 101: A Guide for Small Businesses

Originally published on October 1, 2013 on QBSBDC.com as the second of four blog posts in a series designed to help small businesses, and those that serve them, be successful.

Nearly 80% of active U.S. internet users visit social networks and blogs, according to the SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Social Business Study. This explains why social media marketing is commonplace and effective for most large companies.  At the same time, only 28% of small businesses using social tools identify themselves as applying social in a ‘planned, strategic way.’

Small businesses that use social media in a strategic way are more likely to be satisfied with results than those using it in an ad hoc way. Social media can give a small business the boost it needs to advance to the next level. In fact, 42% of small businesses using social media reported an increase in leads or traffic to their website.

What does it mean to be a strategic user of social media? Here are five best practices worth exploring: 

Step 1: Scope out the competition

Spend a little time on the most popular social media networks and check out how your competitors use those sites. Where do they post? What do they write about? How often do they post? Next, set up your own accounts and start experimenting.

Step 2: Explore customers’ use of social media

Discover how often your customers visit social media sites, what information and experiences they seek, what tools they prefer and what kinds of information they share. 

Step 3: Research what people are saying about you

As you become more familiar with social media, look at how people engage with your company online, including positioning, credibility and following on social networks.

Step 4: Ramp up gradually

Start slowly and then maintain a steady pace. If you begin by posting frequently and then peter out to nothing, your fans could lose interest.  

Step 5: Have a game plan and chart progress

Create a series of posts to cover at least three months of social media activity. Think in terms of upcoming holidays, seasonality, your own promotional calendar, and other time-linked events. This will help keep the content fresh and relevant to your audience.

Of course, you should update your scheduled posts if there is a newsworthy event, showing you are in tune with what is going on. Always respond promptly to social media messages about your business to demonstrate that you are listening to customers and engaged.

 

Infusionsoft: Big Dreams for Small Business

Infusionsoft: Big Dreams for Small Business

Last week I attended InfusionCon 2013, Infusionsoft’s annual user event. In case you’re not familiar with Infusionsoft, they provide web-based all-in-one sales, marketing and ecommerce software aimed at “true” small businesses with 25 or fewer employees.

eventOver 2,000 small business owners attended the event, which featured the launch of Infusionsoft’s 2013 Spring Release, and three days of education, training, networking and presentations. Speakers ranging from Daymond John, founder of FUBU and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, to David Allen, author of the bestseller Getting Things Done, shared center stage with Infusionsoft “Ultimate Marketer” nominees, who provided insight into Infusionsoft’s unique customer community. And, in an industry where most vendors are easily lured upstream into midmarket and large enterprises, the Infusionsoft team doubled-down on the company’s commitment to serving small business.

How does Infusionsoft intend stick with its small business pledge? Let’s take a look based on what I saw and heard at the event.

Climbing Everest

It comes as no surprise to anyone that has ever owned a small business that in every SMB Group study we do, small businesses cite “growing revenues” and “attracting new customers” as their top business challenges. While the goal is straightforward, getting an effective system in place to connect with and nurture prospects and customers is hard and time-consuming. Many end up with using a disconnected assortment of point solutions to address different requirements for things such as ecommerce, email marketing and content management. Not surprisingly this often gets ugly and hard to manage as a business grows. It becomes increasingly difficult to give customers and prospects the responsive and personalized attention, offers and service they expect without working round the clock.

CEO Clate Mask founded Infusionsoft in 2001 with the intent to help small businesses grow without becoming slaves to their businesses by helping them automate their sales and marketing with an integrated, all-in-one solution. Over the past dozen years, Infusionsoft has grown its customer base to 13,500 accounts and 50,000, with a roughly even split between B2C and B2B companies. Growth is also accelerating: Infusionsoft increased revenues and customers by more than 50% in the past year.

I think its fair to say that in the early going, Infusionsoft’s appeal was limited to those small businesses who saw the value of automating their sales and marketing but were also ready, willing and able to invest a lot of time learning how to use Infusionsoft and getting it to work for their businesses. Many of these pioneers have had great success using Infusionsoft to help grow their businesses.

As Infusionsoft has grown however, it has begun to attract more pragmatic customers who don’t have the time or interest required to tinker with configuring software. Small business owners are already wearing enough hats—they aren’t marketing experts and don’t want to be. They see the value that an integrated sales and marketing solution can deliver, but want a shortcut to it.

photoeverestMask and his team have heard this message loud and clear. They know that they need to simplify the solution to appeal to wider swath of small businesses and spike growth to the next level. Consequently, Infusionsoft is focusing on simplifying the solution and delivering positive outcomes to users more quickly to reach its next milestone—100,000 customer accounts in the next four years.

Towards a Sherpa Style Solution

Infusionsoft’s 2013 Spring Release is all about doing more of the heavy lifting so its users don’t have to. The release features a more visual interface, easier to use drag and drop tools, and templates to help small businesses get going. For instance:

  • The My Day dashboard makes it easier to for users get organized, create quotes and move quickly through sales activities to close more business.
  • Infusionsoft’s Marketplace provides a library of free, pre-built marketing campaigns that have a proven track record of converting leads into buyers. Instead of reinventing the wheel, users can download a campaign to their Infusionsoft app, tweak it and go.
  • A new quoting tool that streamlines the quoting process and helps users create, track and manage quotes.
  • New interactive training tutorials help users learn about how to use additional capabilities from within the solutions with boxes that pop up to explain how to do things relevant to where users are in the application.

Infusionsoft has also integrated GroSocial (which it announced the acquisition of in January) with Infusionsoft Campaign Builder. GroSocial enables users to create and manage social campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, and the integration with Campaign Builder whittles down the time it takes to create, manage and track social media marketing campaigns.

Staying the Course

Earlier this year, it captured a $52 million dollar financing round from Goldman Sachs. Skeptics, myself included, have wondered if Goldman Sachs will force Infusionsoft to go upmarket or position for acquisition. After all, striking the right balance to deliver value and build volume in this very fragmented, diverse market is not for the faint of heart. Once you move past turnkey point solutions, very few vendors have been able to establish enduring scale and success.

photo listencareserveBut Mask says that the investment firm wants Infusionsoft to keep its small business pledge and build a great, long-lived company. It turns out that Goldman Sachs supports small businesses through its non-profit foundation, 10,000 Small Businesses, and Infusionsoft sees potential synergy with this initiative. Meanwhile, Infusionsoft is staying true to its own small business roots. Over 60% of its employees have experience running their own small businesses, and Infusionsoft encourages new employees to continue running their small businesses while they work for Infusionsoft to keep the small business focus sharp and stay true to its mantra to listen, care and serve small businesses.

Infusionsoft is also expanding its ecosystem of developer and service delivery partners, which now includes over 300 partners. This year’s Battle of the Apps, showcased at InfusionCon, showcased 4 contestants who develop plug-ins and add-ons to the Infusionsoft platform.

we empowerIn January 2013, Infusionsoft opened up its new 90,000 square foot building to accommodate the 700 employees it will add to its staff to support its small business growth goals and culture. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a big wall with hundreds of photos of Infusionsoft’s small business customers. The building features:

  • Meeting rooms that small businesses in the Phoenix community can use free of charge.
  • A large space to accommodate training for customers and partners.
  • Prominent displays of the company’s nine core values and performance benchmarks for its Everest climb.
  • A games room, mother’s room and a cereal bar—which harkens back to remind everyone of the early dark days when Mask and his then small team lived on cereal and pizza.
  • Infusionsoft is also expanding its ecosystem of developer and service delivery partners, which now includes over 300 partners. This year’s Battle of the Apps, showcased at InfusionCon, 4 contestants who develop plug-ins and add-ons to the Infusionsoft platform.

Interestingly, the building also includes a Dreaming Room—complete with a library and full-time Dream Manager—to help Infusionsoft employees set and attain their personal goals. Infusionsoft believes that happy employees equate to happy customers—and it is filling the walls with photos of how its employees are achieving their dreams.

Perspective

Will Infusionsoft’s dedication to small business pay off? Will it be able to stay the small business course, and find the formula that eludes so many tech companies. Is it on track to become a scalable, enduring small business solution company ala Intuit? Of course, only time will tell if Infusionsoft’s execution will live up to its intentions.

The company will need to strike that fine balance of creating powerful solutions without complexity—a rare thing indeed. But, so far, I like what I see. Keeping fresh small business blood running through its employees’ veins should also help keep it focused on and in tune with small businesses—especially when so many of the vendors targeting small business are so far removed from the realities that small business owners face. Infusionsoft has the capital it needs to provide a better user experience for its customers, and broaden its partner ecosystem to add the nuanced capabilities that diverse small business customers demand.

Infusionsoft’s goal for next year’s InfusionCon is 4,000 small business owner attendees. I’ll be watching to see if the company meets this objective, because convincing that many “true” small business owners to put day-to-day business needs aside for three days to travel and invest to learn how to use any software solution may be a first. If Infusionsoft pulls this off, it will be a very good omen indeed that it can fulfill on its dreams for itself and for its small business customers.

Dell’s Boston Think Tank: Big Ideas for Small Business

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (#smallbizboston) at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Dell billed the session as a chance for business owners, startups and others to come together to listen, learn, collaborate and share.

dpictInstead of talking heads, the day was interactive from start to finish, with speakers who realized that they have as much to learn from attendees as the other way around. And instead of PowerPoint slides, dpict.info’s scribe captured the story as it unfolded, building this great infographic to sum up the day’s key conversations and insights.

Dell_Boston_2013_printDell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt (who I spoke to in this video interview) kicked off the event some interesting stats about how Boston small businesses view the current business environment and their ability access to capital, talent and technology. Whitney Johnson (@johnsonwhitney), Author of Dare, Dream, Do and Harvard Business Review Blogger and event moderator, introduced the 4 different themes for the day, each facilitated by a local small business expert:

Dell sessionFrom my perspective, some of the most interesting takeaways from the day were that small business owners:

  • Struggle to find qualified people who are also a good fit for the company’s culture. Although small business owners believe that talent and expertise are the most important contributors to business growth, they find it difficult task to access the talent they need. The investment required to recruit, hire and train someone looms large for small business, and the risk of hiring someone who doesn’t work out is a big one. While people have had success outsourcing smaller jobs to contractors via sites such as Elance, TaskRabbit and Zirtual, “you reach a point where you need talent that you can trust, commit to and hire.” Practical advice included to “go where the talent is,” for example, check out http://www.meetup.com/ and go to meetups where you’re most likely to find the types of people you’re looking for, and learn some of the lingo they use so you can engage in a meaningful conversation. Other suggestions included writing down and codifying your corporate values so that you can clearly articulate them to the candidates you interview. Finally, look for people with complementary skills to yours, and those who can do the job as well or even better than you can.
  • See technology as both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, the Internet and mobile solutions have made it much easier for people to collaborate and connect. On the other hand, small business owners are in information overload when it comes to sorting through all the thousands of available technology solutions and determine which can really help them achieve their business goals–growing revenue, being more productive, and operating more profitably. Dell’s survey indicates that 41% of Boston small businesses see technology needs as becoming increasingly complex, yet only 1 in 10 have full-time dedicated IT people. This mirrors SMB Group’s North America research findings. Most small businesses see the value of technology in making their businesses successful, but need a lot of help to identify which solutions will have the biggest impact on business results.
  • Believe telecommuting and working remotely enables productivity. Sorry, @Yahoo Melissa Mayer, but I think its fair to say that you are swimming against the tide. The general sentiment seemed to be that although live, face-to-face meetings are ideal for some things, the ability to work remotely has given small businesses more flexibility and access to talent. For instance, Sharon Kan, an entrepreneur with four successful start-up exits, kicked of the Access to Technology session by saying she runs her businesses with “a phone and a laptop.”
  • Typically pull their businesses up with their own bootstraps. Only 3% of Boston small businesses relied on venture capital and angel investors to get off the ground. Personal savings are the top source of funding at 44%, followed by banks and credit unions at 23%. Amy Millman of Springboard Investors, which has funded a raft of innovative start-ups, including Zipcar, iRobot and Constant Contact, gave business owners insights into what investors are looking for. First, you must be able to clearly articulate how your company is going to make money, and “learn the language of funders and investors”. More pointedly, when a prospect says “wow”, take it a step further. Find out the “why and how of the wow” and use that in your pitch to investors.
  • Need to get more strategic about using social media. According to Chris Brogan, who led the social media breakout, all businesses must think like “fledgling TV stations and create their own media” and “build trust at a distance.” The challenge is how to do this effectively. SMB Group’s 2012 Social Business survey indicates that of the 53% of small businesses using social media, less than half use it in a strategic way. According to Chris, small businesses need a home base, such as a web site or blog, and two “outposts.” One outpost should be the social media site that’s the best fit for your story and how you want to tell it (I would add that it also needs to be a place where your prospects hang out) and the other is email marketing: bad email marketing may be dead but good email marketing isn’t. Don’t try to spread yourself too thin–concentrate on using these three to help you “articulate, reach, trust, engage and echo” to meet your business goals.

dell session 5Overall, the interactive format, access to experts and eclectic mix of small business owners added up to an event that gave attendees information and inspiration, and new connections with people to get help from and vice versa.

Dell put a lot into the event. In addition to Ingrid and a number of Dell marketing and AR staff, Dell product strategy, management and technology teams were also well represented. With its listening ears on at events such as this, Dell is taking the right steps not only to help small businesses succeed, but to also ensure that it has the insights it needs to provide small businesses with the solutions they need to move ahead.

The Boston event was the last stop on Dell’s inaugural Think Tank tour of nine cities, but I’m told that Dell intends to follow-up with a new tour schedule soon.

Sage Streamlining Takes a Major Turn With the Sale of ACT! and SalesLogix

sage imagesLast week, The Sage Group announced that it is selling its Sage Act! contact manager and SalesLogix CRM to Swiftpage. Swiftpage is a U.S. based digital marketing software vendor and has been a Sage partner supplying Sage E-Marketing as a connected service for three-plus years. The move is part of Sage’s strategy to streamline its business software portfolio and focus on its core application areas, accounting, ERP and payroll. Sage is also selling Sage Nonprofit Solutions to Accel-KKR, a private equity firm.

In addition, Sage is unloading four solutions sold in Europe. Combined, these sales amount to about $145 million, and result in a loss to Sage. Accel-KKR and Sage provided Swiftpage with significant capital to help finance Swiftpage’s SalesLogix and ACT! purchases. Sage will retain 16.1% ownership in this deal.

The sale affects about 1,000 of Sage’s 13,000 employees, with about 250 people from Sage ACT! and SalesLogix moving to Swiftpage. In my conversation with Himanshu Palsule, Sage’s North American support group is working with Swiftpage to put an escalation process in place for customers.

Sage isn’t exiting the CRM market, however. It is retaining Sage CRM (which it acquired as part of its purchase of ACCPAC several years ago) as its core CRM product.

Following Through On a Strategy to Streamline

Sage’s announcement doesn’t come as a big surprise. At Sage Summit 2012 last August, Sage North America management revealed its strategy to concentrate development on what Sage termed core solutions areas–namely financials, ERP, and payroll, as discussed in my post, Sage Turns a New Leaf: Top Takeaways from Sage Summit 2012.

At the event, Sage North America CEO Pascal Houillon set forth Sage’s strategy to move from a heavily decentralized product management and marketing approach to one that is more centralized and focused—and to put the company on a stronger growth trajectory. By streamlining its offerings, Sage intends to provide customers and partners with a more integrated experience and more flexibility to take advantage of new cloud-based connected services.

Shedding CRM Solutions That Weren’t Keeping Pace with Market Trends

Over the years, Sage has been very acquisitive. But many of its acquisitions haven’t really paid off. This has been particularly true for Sage ACT! and SalesLogix, both of which Sage acquired in 2001 when it bought Interact Commerce. Sage bought these products when desktop and client-server computing were at their peak–but about to wane. Since then, of course, the likes of Salesforce.com, Zoho CRM, Nimble and many other CRM cloud offerings have come to the forefront. Meanwhile, Sage has struggled to make the cloud transition with its CRM products. In addition, Sage hasn’t been able to keep pace with developing the new social capabilities that customers want in CRM solutions. These limitations have made it difficult to sell these products to new customers.

While Sage did develop integrations for ACT! and SalesLogix with its financials solutions, its attempts to cross-sell CRM to its installed base of financials and ERP customers met with limited success. The partner channel and end-user decision-makers for CRM and financials solutions are very different, and Sage was unable to develop an effective method to bridge the gap. As a result, there is very little customer overlap between the two.

With ACT! and SalesLogix off the plate, Sage intends to increase its focus on its core financials and ERP products, including Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree), Sage 1oo ERP (formerly Sage ERP MAS 90 & 200), Sage 300 ERP (formerly ACCPAC), and Sage ERP X3, and provide a richer set of connected services for these solutions.

Moving Forward

For a very long time, Sage has looked to acquisitions as a way to fuel growth, acquiring scores of business software products over the years. Sage has had a hard time rationalizing its strategy, sparking much criticism for having a cluttered portfolio, too many products and not enough focus.

Now, Sage is taking a 180-degree turn to sell off surplus solutions, freeing up development and marketing resources to create cleaner, more integrated solutions and messaging. While it’s too early to tell if this new strategy will result in the growth Sage is looking for, the move does give the company more bandwidth to concentrate on its core financial solutions, and give its remaining Sage CRM product the types of cloud, social  and mobile capabilities that it needs to be competitive. In addition, Sage no longer has to contend with the politics of competing product lines and partner channels.

While the move may be a bit emotionally jarring for current ACT!  and SalesLogix customers, they shouldn’t experience too much change in the short term. Over time, they may in fact see an upside, if Swiftpage, which has a strong focus in the digital marketing space,  can infuse the former Sage solutions with the updated cloud, social and mobile capabilities that they will need to attract new customers.

MSP Cloud Challenges in the Midmarket–and How IBM Helps Meet Them

In my recent post, A View From the MSP Trenches: Cloud Opportunities in the Midmarket, I examined how MSPs see the midmarket opportunity shaping up, and why they are partnering with IBM to capitalize on these opportunities. I discussed how MSPs are taking advantage of cloud-based technology solutions and IBM’s offerings to help their midmarket companies offload infrastructure management, deploy the leading-edge solutions, and achieve the performance, availability and security required for mission-critical applications.

I also wanted to learn more about the challenges that MSPs face, and how they work with IBM to surmount these hurdles. This post focuses on that side of my conversation with the same three MSPs, who I’ll reintroduce here:

  • Oxford Networks characterizes itself as “a 112 year-old start-up,” which began as a phone company and has since reinvented itself a couple of times over to become a high-end carrier’s carrier transport network. Oxford recently acquired an MSP and a data center, and is building on this to offer a spectrum of IT and telecom services to SMBs.
  • Perimeter E-Security delivers highly secure infrastructure protection and compliance solutions via its security-as-a-software platform, including: firewall management and monitoring, vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection and prevention, hosted email, hosted collaboration, email security, message archiving and mobile device management. Perimeter offers its services in the cloud, and on customer premises.  About two-thirds of its customers are small and midsize businesses (SMBs).
  • Velocity Technology Solutions provides virtual private cloud managed application and hosting services for its customers’ ERP solutions. It also hosts and manages connected applications, such as analytics and workforce automation; and complementary technical solutions, such as imaging. Velocity offers remote managed services for customers’ on premises applications, including a full replication service for disaster recovery.  Velocity’s customers range from businesses with about $50M in annual revenues to the Fortune 500.

MSPs must keep pace with a rapidly changing technology landscape and provide consistent, high performance cloud services. After all, that’s precisely why their customers are outsourcing infrastructure and application management to them in the first place. In their view, IBM provides them with the proven solutions and expertise that they need to deliver superior quality of service. As Tom Bruno, President & CEO, Velocity Technology Solutions, noted, “IBM has the most stable infrastructure. We can tap into the strength and girth of IBM to get the peace of mind that we need to deliver high-availability service.”

Some of the specific areas in which MSPs find strong value in the IBM partnership include:

  • Resources to scale and grow. By standardizing on IBM hardware and middleware, they are able to efficiently create and manage a high-availability environment. For instance, Velocity Technology Solutions works closely with IBM to identify and standardize the server, storage, and middleware stack to support “just about any application the customer wants,” according to Bruno.  “One of the biggest challenges is that ERP is advancing so fast–with a rush of analytics, mobile apps, collaboration and process flow. Customers want to upgrade, and with IBM, we can get these upgrades down to a science, and offer customers freedom of choice.” Or, as Craig Gunderson, President & CEO of Oxford Networks told me, “When we acquired the data center, it wasn’t up to snuff. IBM technologists helped us to reconfigure it and build for the future.”
  • Speed and agility. The bar to stay ahead of the technology curve is rising quickly, and MSPs must move at warp speed to stay ahead of it. While MSPs are often small or midmarket companies themselves, their IBM partnerships help give them the agility they need to take advantage of leading-edge technologies. “The IBM SmartCloud, DataFlex, V Systems and other IBM solutions are core to our PaaS and IaaS offerings. This means we can make more capabilities available more quickly to customers,” notes Gunderson.  MSPs need a stable but flexible technology foundation, says Perimeter E-Security’s Andrew Jacquith. “We add a terabyte of data per day to our cloud email and archiving platforms. IBM helps provide a secure, scalable cloud fabric to support our growth.”
  • End-to-end services. MSPs don’t want to or can’t provide everything a customer may need across the entire technology spectrum. But they are taking advantage of IBM’s ecosystem to broaden their service portfolios and give their customers a one-stop shopping experience. At Oxford Networks, for example, “Customers are asking us to be more of a business solutions provider. This wasn’t our core competency, but we can provide end-to-end solutions via IBM SaaS partners’ says Gunderson. “Partnering with other partners in the IBM ecosystem gives us the ability to meet the converging needs of our customers.”

In late September, IBM launched new global initiatives for MSPs, which provide additional resources to help them meet core technology challenges, including:

  • Access to four new Global Centers of Excellence (in addition to 40 existing IBM Innovation Centers). These centers provide MSPs with hands-on technical skills in technologies such asIBM SmartCloud, PureSystems, storage, security and collaboration.
  • A new virtual briefing center for MSPs to share ideas and knowledge about industry trends, customer requirements and best practices with their peers and with IBM experts.
  • PureSystems, which provides a new, integrated, by-design platform to tune hardware and software resources for data intensive workloads, and gain more flexibility to configure applications for either an on-premise or hosted environment.
  • More options for IBM SmartCloud, giving MSPs the choice to either integrate SmartCloud as an IBM-backed solution, or provide SmartCloud under their own brand.

Profitable business growth is another key challenge for all companies, and MSPs are no exception. The MSPs I spoke with believe that IBM sets itself apart with the quality of business planning and marketing support that it provides. “IBM partners with us to help us plan and capture more midmarket business,” states E-Perimeter’s Jacquith.  “The level of partnering is very deep.”

In the case of Oxford Networks, IBM and its advertising firm, Ogilivy and Mather, helped Oxford to determine which markets to focus on and how to grow intelligently. IBM also brings in Avnet personnel to help Oxford educate customers and prospects.  “IBM is very hands-on. We have never seen another company provide this level of support,” says Gunderson.

IBM new global initiatives for MSPs also offer more marketing and operational support. These included dedicated marketing and sales support, and a new program to help MSPs build a complete marketing plan. Other assistance includes a four-part education seminar to help MSPs use social media to grow their businesses, and IBM analytic capabilities to identify new customers and drive more repeat business.

IBM Global Financing (IGF) is stepping in with flexible, affordable financing options to help MSPs acquire the solutions and services they need to grow. Plans include 12-month, 0% loans for IBM Systems, Storage and Software. MSPs that select PureSystems platforms can also defer their first payment for 90 days.

All told, IBM’s focus on MSPs adds up to a tremendous value not only for MSPs, but for their customers. Instead of just throwing resources at them, IBM has put together an integrated program to address their technology and business challenges. In addition, IBM’s dedicated marketing and sales support provides MSPs with real people who get to know them and understand their individual goals and challenges. With this coordinated and personalized approach, IBM can to get the right resources to MSPs when and how they need it. In turn, these MSPs will be able acquire the skills and resources they need to help their midmarket customers achieve their goals.

This is the fourth of a five-part blog series by SMB Group that examines the evolution of midmarket business technology solutions and IBM’s Managed Service Provider Channel programs. In the next post, I’ll discuss upcoming IBM’s MSP program announcements slated for November.

Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line

“Why can’t business software be as easy to use as buying a book on Amazon?” At the Dreamforce 2012 SMB keynote, Hilary Koplow-McAdams, President of Salesforce.com’s Commercial Division, told the crowd that this was the question that Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, originally set out to answer when he founded the company. When you think about it, this question was particularly prescient in 1999, when Salesforce was in start-up mode and conversations about the “consumerization of IT” were scarce. This perspective also provided a welcome breath of fresh air for small businesses, which were Salesforce’s chief target market at the time, and were in dire need of technology vendors that could keep things simple. Fast forward to 2012 Dreamforce. As I discussed in my first post about the event, Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture, Benioff showcased several large enterprise customers, a slew of new directions and offerings, and a compelling case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. Salesforce.com has grown up and evolved into a multi-faceted company with a rich portfolio of technologies and solutions that extend well beyond its CRM roots. But with this kind of growth comes complexity. Even if Salesforce can make products Amazon-easy, can it tell the story so that SMBs “get it?” In addition, as combinations of products and pricing options multiply, will SMBs be able to wade through, figure out their best options, and be able to afford them?

“A” for a Compelling Vision for SMBs

Which leads to this, my second post. How and how clearly is Salesforce making its case to SMBs? For starters, this year’s event featured the first SMB track ever at Dreamforce–certainly a big step in the right direction. In the SMB keynote, Koplow-McAdams discussed how the cloud model helps democratize and level the playing field for smaller companies, and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to them. According to Koplow-McAdams, SMBs are also racking up good returns on their investment: Salesforce studies show that their SMB customers have boosted win rates by 25+%, increased sales productivity by 34% and increased revenues by 30%. While it’s not surprising that Salesforce has been transformative for the SMB customers that shared this stage with Hilary Koplow-McAdams, their stories were as interesting–and maybe a little more fun–as the large enterprise customers featured in Benioff’s keynote. They discussed how, despite limited IT staffs and budgets, they’ve used Salesforce to grow their businesses. For instance:

  • PlayerLayer, which sells performance athletic apparel, had customer data in Excel, and “had all the customer data, but no way to look at it.” It wanted a solution to help “interrogate” the data so that the company could expand into new countries without a big ad budget. Salesforce and Chatter have helped PlayerLayer gain a better understanding of its customers, collaborate on products more efficiently, and “compete with giants in industry.”
  • Yelp, the now well-known search and review site for local businesses, has grown from 2 employees in 1994 to over 1,000 employees today. When Yelp hired its first full-time sales rep for its original San Francisco site, it deployed Salesforce. Geoff Donaker, Yelp COO described how as Yelp branched out into new markets, it was “easy to expand with Salesforce.” Now in 18 countries and 90 cities, Yelp has 800 Salesforce users.
  • Square, the mobile payments vendor, has grown to process $8 billion in payments/year, and 400 employees over the past few years. According to Sarah Friar, Square, CFO, “selling is a team sport” at Square, which uses Salesforce Sales Cloud, Chatter, and Desk.com for support. Square shared a demo of how Desk.com automatically brings tweets, Facebook posts, email and phone conversations into Desk.com to help it provide more responsive customer service.
  • Leviev Diamonds, with 25 employees and 5 showrooms around the globe, was founded in 2006. An offshoot of a successful wholesale diamond business, Leviev wanted to start a retail channel to market very high quality diamonds. As the company CEO, said, “the most important part of the business is schmoozing, which you call CRM.” Leviev decided to use Salesforce because it did what they needed it to do and fit the budget. No Leviev has its entire inventory in Salesforce, and when potential clients open mobile alerts, they are redirected to Salesforce for more information. According to Leviev, “I love Salesforce. It changed everything for us.”
  • Carlo’s Bakery, made famous by the TLC reality show Cake Boss, featuring owner Buddy Valastro, served up the final story. Once Cake Boss started airing, “all hell broke loose.” The problem was, although the bakery starting getting millions of hits a day on their website, it wasn’t able to turn them into sales because Carlo’s Bakery was still a pencil and paper business and according to Valastro, “a lot of people have to interact to make a cake.” In about 8 weeks, the bakery switched from pencil and paper to Salesforce and Radian6 to convert more of its millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers into customers, and get better visibility into its sales funnel. Carlo’s Bakery can take orders on iPads and mobile phones, and the orders come together in one system, which enables everyone to collaborate. The bakery now does $20 million worth of sales from its Hoboken store, has increased productivity by 60%, and improved customer experience.

Collectively, Salesforce and its customers did a great job of summing up how cloud offerings–and Salesforce in particular–can give SMBs a faster, more user-friendly, and streamlined way to run their businesses. In some cases, these customers moved directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, illuminating both the ease and value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. So I’ll give Salesforce an “A” for telling the story.

“C” for an SMB Friendly Social Enterprise Plot Line

But, I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance when I look at the plot line. Sure, Benioff’s big picture social enterprise vision is compelling for businesses of any size. But as I asked in my 2011 post, Is Salesforce.com Outgrowing SMBs?, can the average small or medium business put the piece parts together? Thankfully, the company does seem to have put a simple naming convention in place (and renamed several acquisitions accordingly), but I’ve lost count of how many solutions Salesforce provides…along with what’s included in what. For instance, Salesforce Touch is included as part of Force.com. But do most SMBs even buy Force.com? And if they don’t, can third-party development partners somehow pass relevant Salesforce Touch capabilities through? Likewise, the question of how much it will cost for SMBs to become a social enterprise ala the Salesforce model is also cloudy. Fortunately, Chatter is included in all Sales Cloud editions. But how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($15/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month) to get some fairly basic marketing functionality such as email marketing, campaigns and analytics snapshots. And what about Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which starts at $5,000 per month? When it comes to software (on premise or in the cloud!) SMBs don’t want mystery. They want solution clarity, and transparent, predictable pricing. At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through and figure this out–or the budget to hire a consultant to do it for them. But, many smaller businesses won’t have these resources. So I need to give Salesforce a “C“ when it comes to making it easy for SMBs to identify, assess, configure and price the best mix of Salesforce solutions to turn the social enterprise vision into reality. And, while Salesforce will likely rely on its partners to help SMBs navigate these areas, it seems difficult to see how partners can profitably provide the services SMBs need to evaluate, select and deploy the right formula of Salesforce solutions. How will Salesforce.com grow and remain true to its small business roots? Most software vendors have found it very difficult to succeed in both large enterprise and small business worlds. Can Salesforce succeed where others have failed? I’ll be looking forward to Dreamforce 2013 to see if the details are as clear as the vision by then.

IBM Smarter Commerce for Midsize Businesses – Future Trends

To help companies understand IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the final post in the series.

Empowered customers are reshaping business today. They want a consistent experience between all channels. They compare notes and instantly share. And they can champion a brand or sully a reputation with the click of a mouse. In response to these trends, IBM Smarter Commerce helps companies manage and adapt their commerce processes, putting the customer at the center of their operations.

For this post, we had the opportunity to talk to Alisa Maclin, Vice President, IBM Smarter Commerce Marketing. We asked her about IBM’s views on some of the more nascent trends in this area that may not yet be on the radar for most midsize businesses–but have the potential to create significant shifts in how companies conduct commerce.

Q. While it may have been difficult to predict how radically social media or the rise of smartphones and tablets would affect commerce a few years ago, what are some of the technology trends likely to have a dramatic impact on commerce in the next 5 years or so?

A: We believe that the speed of technological innovation and consumer adoption will continue to accelerate for the next five years and beyond. This acceleration is driving entirely new business models that are changing the landscape between buyers and sellers. The traditional models of B2B and B2C will need to leverage technology to continue to improve efficiencies, while adapting to new models such as Social and Facebook Commerce. The empowered and connected consumer is driving the “consumerization” of business and the empowered citizen is increasingly digitally engaged and networked. For small and medium-sized businesses, the opportunity to embrace technology and the connected consumer is now.

Q: Is there a difference in what B2B and B2C businesses need to think about and do?

A: Yes and no, the lines separating B2B and B2C models are blurring. The empowered consumer looks for the same benefits of mobile and social technologies whether they are at work or at home or on the go. The result is a connected ‘consumer’ that has access to information looking to engage in new ways and do business both locally and globally to meet their needs.

B2B companies need to optimize their digital operations and transform how products and services are created, marketed, sold, delivered and serviced. For example, the influence of ‘self-service’ is universal in both B2C and B2B, with 56% of customers demanding increased self service when they do business with a company, according to Forrester Research in 2011. And, B2C companies need to really look at mobile and social as a ‘must have’ to compete and win their customers and keep them coming back.

Q: In addition to the impact of emerging technology, what other trends–economic, social, regulatory, etc.– do you see happening in the future that will impact how companies buy, market, sell and service?

A: Economic realities affect how companies operate, especially across the value chain. As the number of supply chain partners increases, the need for accurate, time-sensitive information becomes more acute. Many companies will turn to business intelligence and analytics on key control point indicators, such as orders versus forecasts and inventory in transit versus in stock, to move from “sense-and-respond” to “predict-and-act” organizations.

From a regulatory perspective, product lifecycle traceability in consumer products and other industries is a growing requirement. As product lifecycle traceability in many industries is becoming a major concern, the use of smart devices is likely to become more prevalent for tagging products wherever they are, as well as the containers and modes that are transporting them.

Q: How do you envision these changes affecting midsize businesses? What should they do to prepare and take advantage of them?

A: These changes will impact businesses of all sizes. No business is immune, and those that think they are will find themselves at a disadvantage. Midsize businesses can start to put the customer – the empowered customer – at the center of their commerce processes by taking these steps toward Smarter Commerce:

  • Listen to their clients to better understand and anticipate customer behavior and turn insight into action.
  • Adapt their sourcing of goods and services with a focus on customer demand, and orchestrate seamlessly among their trading partners and suppliers to serve that demand.
  • Personalize marketing and selling to your customers as much as possible and keep them coming back for more.
  • Evaluate service processes and learn from customers’ behavior to predict and take action.

Q. Do you think Smarter Commerce provides midsize companies a way to level the playing field–by helping them to establish a “virtual presence” in other countries without the physical infrastructure or physical presence?

A: Yes, in a flat world and global access at our fingertips – companies of any size can compete to win. But, just putting a virtual presence out there will not be enough. The key is customer satisfaction, which is tied directly to profitability. Data shows that for every customer who complains of poor service a company loses 10. And, it costs 6 to 7 times more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one.

The way to stand out will be to incorporate customer-centricity into all your commerce processes. This is not a new concept… but in today’s marketplace it is the difference between thriving and going out of business.

Q: What are some of the things IBM is doing to help midsize companies stay ahead of the curve?

A: You’ll find that much of what we’re doing with our Smarter Commerce initiative is designed to help companies of all sizes to address these market changes. It focuses on three areas organizations need to address – customer insight, strategy and engagement. Companies need deep insight into customer behavior and needs – and the ability to anticipate and predict behavior to take immediate action. This insight, in turn, should drive the development and refinement of their customer value strategy – how to enhance, extend – and redefine value as viewed by the customer – and, the key here, is to do it profitably. And, finally, using that strategy to build customer engagement.

IBM works closely with its Business Partner network to drive this kind of change in the midmarket. For example, working with IBM Business Partner ExactTarget, Skymall was able to deliver more targeted e-mails using analytics-driven behavioral insights. This resulted in recapturing 3-5% of potentially lost revenue from abandoned carts, and helped Skymall to grow email-generated sales by 34%. Another example is RiverPoint, a systems integration consulting firm and IBM Business Partner. They helped The Society of Critical Care run more effective marketing campaigns. Combining IBM’s enterprise marketing management (EMM) software platform with RiverPoint’s best practices EMM consulting has enabled the client to experience a 2.4% positive change in membership attrition in the first year.

This is the final post in a series examining the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. For more information about how IBM Smarter Commerce is transforming midsize companies’ approach to commerce, visit IBM Smarter Commerce for the Midmarket.

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